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By  Emily Lehmann 4 July 2023 3 min read

Key points

  • Our Anameka Saltbush is drought-tolerant and makes ideal supplementary feed for sheep and cattle.
  • Hundreds of thousands of shrubs are being planted in new regions across Australia's southeast.
  • The plantings will support farmers through drought, help regenerate the land, and improve farm profitability.

Dr Hayley Norman identified Anameka Saltbush from 60,000 plants. ©  Damien Smith Photography

On Australia’s desert plains in the west, Old Man Saltbush (Atriplex nummularia), a salt-loving, native shrub, thrives and is often the only vegetation in sight. 

But it's in the paddock where the devouring of this humble shrub is most important. Saltbush's drought-tolerant qualities make it the ideal fodder for sheep and cattle to graze on during feed gaps when there's little else available.

Recognising an opportunity to improve shrub systems, we worked with partners in government and industry to select and develop a special variety for farmers to use as a supplementary feed. It’s called Anameka Saltbush (Anameka). 

It’s preferred by sheep, has a higher nutritional value than standard saltbushes, and can help regenerate the land. It also thrives on soils that are challenging to grow crops. 

A taste for saltbush

Anameka was selected from 60,000 saltbush plants collected from across Australia, each with different qualities.

Hayley discovered that Anameka Saltbush is more palatable for sheep. ©  Damien Smith Photography

In coming up with the ideal saltbush to improve farm profit, our team was keen to find a higher energy variety that sheep and cattle loved eating.

Our agricultural scientist, Dr Hayley Norman, said sheep are surprisingly fussy eaters.

"We followed their lead by observing which plants the sheep preferred in the paddock," Hayley said. 

"We found stark differences between shrub varieties with some picked bare while others were left untouched.

"Season after season, the sheep kept going back to the same plants. Our analysis found these to have higher energy values, ticking the box for what we were looking for."

Anameka Saltbush has 20 per cent higher energy than other plants assessed. It contains high levels of crude protein, sulphur, minerals and Vitamin E. It also offers higher feeding value and profitability when compared to standard saltbushes.

Branching out east to support farmers

About six million Anameka shrubs have been planted to date, mostly in WA to utilise land impacted by dryland salinity. 

And now they’re heading east, with hundreds of thousands of Anameka Saltbush currently being planted in new regions across Australia’s southeast. 

Our Drought Resilience Mission is driving the adoption of the shrub to support farmers and lower the impacts of droughts.  

Hayley said modelling and farmer feedback indicates the productivity benefits are greatest during dry years or particular seasons. 

"Livestock producers face annual feed gaps over summer and autumn when there is low rainfall and this period can be extended or exacerbated during a drought," Hayley said. 

"Farmers often need feed supplements to meet energy, protein, vitamin and mineral requirements during this time. Planting Anameka offers farmers a long-term solution to meet feed gaps, as they can grow for over 20 years if managed well.” 

Our research in WA has found Anameka offers 20 per cent higher economic returns compared to standard saltbushes, particularly in relatively dry years. This includes greater wool and meat production, and reduced supplementary feed.  

Hundreds of thousands of Anameka Saltbush seedlings ready for planting.

Shelter and fodder on the plains 

Marcus Hooke, a merino sheep farmer in Booroorban, southern New South Wales, is hoping to capture some of these benefits. 

This winter, he is doubling the number of Anameka in his paddocks with lamb survivability a key driver. 

“It’s early days but we believe the benefits of Saltbush will be long-term,” Mr Hooke said. 

“For us the benefits will be two-sided in providing crucial shelter to lambs to improve their survivability out on the plains during colder months, and for feed to provide energy during dry seasons.” 

Marcus is one of 325 farmers who have adopted Anameka Saltbush across Australia.

[Music plays and an image appears of a split circle and photographs of various CSIRO activities are shown in either side, and then the circle morphs into the CSIRO logo]

[Image changes to show a dried out salty lake, and then the image changes to show sheep milling around scrubby bushes]

Rod Stokes: There’s no doubt that our winter rainfall is changing you know.

[Images move through of a close view of dried, cracked earth, and then Rod walking along a fenceline in a paddock, and text appears: Rod Stokes, Tammin Farmer]

You know, our winter rainfall, we’re getting a lot less.

[Images move through of Ross cleaning out a trough, Hayley Norman talking to the camera, and then a mob of sheep running towards the camera, and text appears: Dr Hayley Norman, Principal Research Scientist, CSIRO]

Dr Hayley Norman: CSIRO’s drought mission aims to reduce the impact of drought by 30% by 2030.

[Images move through to show a view looking down on a mob of sheep, a view looking down on a saltbush growing nursery, and a view of people working potting the saltbush in a shed]

As prt of our drought mission, CSIRO are working on an integrated approach with government, other research agencies and industry.

[Image changes to show sheep in amongst saltbush plants]

Anameka saltbush is a great example of CSIRO’s drought resilience research.

[Image changes to show a view looking down on saltbush paddocks and the camera pans over the paddock, and then the image changes to show Rod walking amongst the saltbush]

It’s essentially a desert plant that can survive during dry years and help alleviate problems with livestock feed shortages.

[Images move through of close views of Rod looking at the saltbush plants, a close view of a tagged Anameka saltbush, and a close view of Dustin McCreery holding a sprig of saltbush]

Rod Stokes: If I had a drought the sheep would be on here and the reason I would be doing that is because of the erosion the dry season would be causing on the sand plain paddocks or my other good country.

[Image changes to show Dustin standing in a nursery talking to the camera, and text appears: Dustin McCreery, Nursery Operator]

Dustin McCreery: This is an Anameka saltbush. Behind me is all Anameka which has been taken from a cutting.

[Image changes to show a worker potting saltbush plants into a tray]

It was developed by CSIRO for palatability, digestibility and biomass.

[Image changes to show a view looking down on saltbush growing in a paddock]

Dr Hayley Norman: Annual feed gaps and droughts are a major cost and risk for producers.

[Image changes to show a close view of the saltbush plants in a paddock]

Anameka saltbush can help fill those feed gaps and reduce the impact of dry seasons.

[Image changes to show saltbush growing in a nursery, and then the image changes to show a close view of a saltbush plant]

CSIRO and partners are working with the Australian Future Drought Fund to demonstrate Anameka salt bush systems at producer scales across southern Australia.

[Image changes to show Rod talking to the camera]

Rod Stokes: In a dry year, it’s definitely a help because I’m getting 5kJ of energy that I wouldn’t be getting anywhere else at that time of the year.

[Image changes to show sheep standing in amongst the saltbush plants grazing, and then the image changes to show saltbush plants growing in a paddock]

I would have a lot of sheep on here in a drought and these bushes would probably get stripped right back. This country is going to survive. It’s not going to blow. It’s a win-win situation in a dry year.

[Image changes to show Rod talking to the camera]

If anything in a dry year, this would be more valuable to me than in a good year.

[Music plays and the image changes to show the CSIRO logo on a white screen, and text appears: Australia’s National Science Agency]

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Sharing tips for success

A key aspect is ensuring farmers have the tools they need to realise long term benefits.

“We’re running a series of field days to share tips and knowledge with farmers in eastern Australia so they can effectively grow Anameka and make the most of it,” Hayley said.

“Success will see Anameka Saltbush adopted more widely across the country.”

Our partners include Chatfield’s Tree Nursery, Tulla Natives, Select Carbon, Meat & Livestock Australia, WA Government’s Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development, Australian Wool Innovation and several producer groups across Australia. The work has also received funding from the Australian Government’s Future Drought Fund. 

Farmers interested in exploring Anameka can contact Tulla Natives nursery for supply to New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia and Queensland, or Chatfield’s Tree Nursery for WA.  


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